Cargin aim to end winless Ulster Championship decade for Antrim against Donegal champions Naomh Conaill

Cargin manager Ronan Devlin hopes to have Tomas McCann fully fit for Sunday. Pic Philip Walsh..
Cargin manager Ronan Devlin hopes to have Tomas McCann fully fit for Sunday. Pic Philip Walsh..

CARGIN hope to have Tomas and Michael McCann close to full fitness for Sunday’s Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final against Donegal champions Naomh Conaill on Sunday.

The long-serving brothers both carried injuries into the thrilling Antrim decider against Aghagallon but Tomas scored five points and provided the pass for Michael’s crucial goal in the two-point win.

By Sunday it’ll be five weeks’ since Cargin regained the county title which was their fourth in five seasons and sixth in eight and manager Ronan Devlin says the down-time has served his squad well.

“It seems like a long time but it has gone really well,” said Devlin.

“I thought it would be a long stretch but there’s a lot of life about the boys and it has worked out. We had a couple of injuries and hopefully it has given them a wee bit of time to heal – Mick and Tomas would have been struggling in the final – so this has been time you don’t normally get. You usually only get two weeks’ between a county final and the start of Ulster so hopefully we’ve been able to get them in a bit better shape than they were before.”

It’s 10 years now since an Antrim club made a dent in the Ulster Championship. St Gall’s 1-15 to 0-9 victory over Fermanagh’s Tempo Maguires a decade ago was the county’s last victory in the provincial series.

There have been some near misses since but, once again, the Antrim champions begin the competition as underdogs and Devlin’s says the clubs have contributed to being saddled with an unwelcome tag.

“The last two occasions we’ve played in Ulster we didn’t do ourselves justice,” he said.

“We were almost beat by half-time in both games. We gave Gaoth Dobhair (2018) a 10-point start although we dragged it back to two in the second half. Derrygonnelly (2019) was the same. We conceded two goals in the first half and left ourselves too much to do.

“So we’ve added to that underdog status but I genuinely think the health of Antrim football is good and our aim this year is to give a better account of ourselves and we’ll see where it will take us. Two games and we could be sitting in an Ulster final – it can happen if you believe it and we need to stop worrying about winning just one game.”

Opponents Naomh Conaill beat Letterkenny’s St Eunan’s to land their third Donegal title in four seasons. The Glenties-based outfit have been in their last six county finals and were Ulster finalists in 2019 when they lost out to reigning champions Kilcoo by two points.

“We have a lot of good footballers,” said Devlin.

“We’ve got James Laverty, Michael and Tomas McCann, Kevin O’Boyle, Justin Crozier… They’re household names in Antrim and they have played a lot of provincial football and county football.”

Devlin also mentioned the “good crop of youth” at the Erin’s Own club which he rates as “as good as you’d see” and it includes the talents of Pat Shivers, Sean O’Neill and Benen Kelly.

“At the minute I think the blend is nice,” he said.

“We watched Naomh Conaill in the Donegal final and they’re a team that has been in an Ulster final before so we know they will be hard to beat.

“We’ve never played each other, it’s a totally new fixture and it’s a new step and that’s refreshing. It’s nice to get out and play these teams because this is where you want to be, you want a crack at these boys and Naomh Conaill are the best team in Donegal so we’ll not getting a handy one.”